THE BOB HOPE COLLECTION (1947-1955). It's a banner year for Bob Hope on DVD, as Universal's June release of the six-movie Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories is now followed by Shout! Factory's five-film offering.
An in-name-only follow-up to 1942's My Favorite Blonde, My Favorite Brunette (1947) finds the comedian cast as a baby photographer who's mistaken for a private eye by a mysterious beauty (Dorothy Lamour) and the various crooks trying to keep her from blowing the lid off their nefarious scheme. Before long, the bumbling would-be snoop finds himself mixing it up with a menacing henchman (a wonderful Peter Lorre), trying to outsmart a dim-witted orderly (Lon Chaney Jr.) and facing execution after a wrongful murder charge. One of Bob's best, this never slows down, offering plenty of choice one-liners, inspired set pieces, and a pair of ace cameo appearances.
The fifth of seven "Road" movies, Road to Rio (1947) is one of the better entries in the Hope-Bing Crosby franchise, with the duo playing musicians who both have their eyes on a young woman (Lamour) under the control of her scheming aunt (Gale Sondergaard). The grade-A comedy quotient more than makes up for the routine musical numbers (although the score did earn an Oscar nomination).
A Damon Runyon story is the basis for The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), with Hope in fine form as racetrack gambler Sidney Melbourne. After an ill-advised swindle leaves him owing a ruthless mobster (Fred Clark) a substantial amount of dough, Sidney concocts a scheme that will help him pay off his debt by employing unsuspecting elderly women. But will his conscience ultimately get the better of him? Trivia note: The Yuletide standard "Silver Bells" was introduced in this film.
Road to Bali (1952), the penultimate picture in the "Road" series, offers enough nyuks to maintain interest, with Hope and Crosby as entertainers who end up on a lush island paradise, where they woo a princess (Lamour) and run afoul of villagers searching for sunken treasure. The gags involving such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin are priceless.
An Oscar nominee for Best Story and Screenplay, The Seven Little Foys (1955) is primarily remembered today for the classic scene in which vaudeville star Eddie Foy (Hope) performs an elaborate dance with the legendary George M. Cohan (James Cagney, reprising his Oscar-winning Yankee Doodle Dandy role). Otherwise, this is a middling biopic which forces Hope to play a more conventional movie character, with solemnity and sentimentality often crowding out the brand of humor that was his trademark.
There are no extras in the collection.
My Favorite Brunette: ***1/2
Road to Rio: ***
The Lemon Drop Kid: ***
Road to Bali: **1/2
The Seven Little Foys: **1/2
INCEPTION (2010). Christopher Nolan's first film since the eye-popping success of The Dark Knight is a must-see marvel with the ability to get cineastes intoxicated on the pure pleasure and the pure possibility of the medium of film. Offering any sort of synopsis is a risky business, since this is one of those pretzel-shaped pictures that rewards the unaware. Suffice it to say that it's set in what appears to be the near future, when it will be possible to enter other people's dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best in the business of creeping into targets' minds and extracting valuable secrets for which others will pay a hefty price. But his latest assignment doesn't go exactly as planned. Tackling such prominent themes as (to borrow from dream expert Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory, Nolan has created a head-scratching one-of-a-kind that's both knotty enough and ambiguous enough to lead to conflicting opinions down the years. Nolan also slyly borrows from the classics of yesteryear, with particularly obvious nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane and select Hitchcock titles. It all adds up to a superb motion picture, one with the ability to infiltrate both our dream state and our waking life.
DVD extras include four behind-the-scenes pieces totaling 30 minutes.
MICMACS (2010). Most modern filmgoers may be more familiar with Michael Keaton than Buster Keaton, but modern filmmakers worth their salt are skilled and knowledgeable enough to reach into the medium's distant past to find true inspiration. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) has approached Micmacs by invoking the spirit of such silent stars as Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd to tackle a storyline with topical, politicized leanings. The charming if slight end result suggests Michael Moore by way of the Keystone Kops, as the hapless Bazil (Dany Boon) finds his life altered by the creations of two weapons-manufacturing outfits: a land mine that kills his dad and a stray bullet that lodges in his own brain. The injury leaves him both jobless and homeless, but he's soon taken in by a group of misfits (with such tell-all names as Elastic Girl and Calculator) who help him get revenge on the war profiteers (Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marie) who run the conglomerates. Even though Jeunet leans on his trademark whimsy a bit too heavily this time around, this is a clever and worthwhile diversion, pitting eccentric underdogs who could only exist in the movies against two memorably heinous villains seemingly lifted wholesale from real life. It's a deft splicing of the fictional with the factual, and Jeunet pulls it off with acrobatic precision.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Jeunet; a 48-minute making-of feature; an 11-minute Q&A with Jeunet and actress Julie Ferrier; and the theatrical trailer.
MOTHER AND CHILD (2010). Three terrific performances are at the center of Mother and Child, an emotionally taxing drama that focuses on a trio of women all dealing with the issue of adoption. An excellent Annette Bening is all coiled tension and repressed emotion as Karen, who at 14 was forced to give up her newborn baby and has been haunted by the incident ever since. Naomi Watts displays a chilly disposition as Elizabeth, who was given up for adoption as a child and has been molded by her past into an icy attorney who prefers to avoid (or toy with) people rather than get close to them. And Kerry Washington packs the empathic heat as Lucy, whose infertility leads her to want to adopt a child. Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia leans toward the melodramatic during the final portion of the film, and it's annoying how neatly all the story strands manage to wrap around each other right before the fadeout. But for the most part, Garcia offers a sober, clear-eyed picture that's populated with prickly personalities and unenviable situations, and he and his actors (including Jimmy Smits, Samuel L. Jackson and Shareeka Epps in the supporting ranks) are brave enough not to flinch even during the most challenging interludes.
DVD extras include two behind-the-scenes featurettes totaling 30 minutes; three deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
SALT (2010). A neo-Cold War thriller would seem like just the ticket for cineastes who fondly recall Iron Curtain-courting capers on the order of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and select James Bond tales. And the title even suggests a nod to that chunk of 20th century history involving U.S.-U.S.S.R. tensions, as SALT was the name given to discussions centering on reducing both nations' arsenals of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the majority of this film fails to honor either its cinematic predecessors or its real-life milieu: Extracting the occasional misplaced titter from viewers, it stirs memories less of John le Carre and more of Yakov Smirnoff. Angelina Jolie headlines as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy; as she follows a trail of clues in an effort to clear her name, it begins to appear as if maybe even she's not completely certain about her own identity. Jolie is practically the whole show; the rest is negligible, from the repetitive (if well-staged) chase sequences to the absurd plotting, which — thanks to obvious casting in a key role — culminates in a final twist that can be spotted even before couch potatoes manage to open that bag of chips. There's already talk of a sequel to Salt, but it's going to have to provide a lot more flavor than this bland offering.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Phillip Noyce; an 8-minute look at the character of Evelyn Salt; and a half-hour radio interview with Noyce.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010). The Twilight Saga: Eclipse isn't the best of three, but neither is it the worst. Instead, this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's book falls somewhere in the middle, between the nicely captured teen angst of 2008's Twilight and the ill-fated emotional oasis of 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The series is often only so much melodramatic glop, but at its best, it also taps into that essence which informs youthful, blinding love. The canniness of the franchise is that it uses its protagonist, Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart), to literalize these desires, as she must choose between sparkly emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and hunky werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). There are a number of ingredients likely to earn titters, from some overripe lines to several of the characterizations; yet for all the film's flaws, there's much that it gets right. The visual effects are vastly improved, and Stewart again makes Bella a watchable heroine. And while Pattinson and Lautner may not be the most accomplished actors around, they're desirable for these roles, especially in the scenes in which Pattinson's ethereal angst bounces off Lautner's robust earthiness. No, Eclipse may never sparkle as brightly as its centerpiece vampires. But neither does it suck like them.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Stewart and Pattinson; separate audio commentary by Meyer and producer Wyck Godfrey; eight deleted and extended scenes; a six-part making-of feature; and music videos for Muse's "Neutron Star Collision" and Metric's "Eclipse (All Yours)."